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Dublin: 9 °C Saturday 11 July, 2020

Dazzling Donovan destroys McAfee to claim Irish title

Donovan stopped McAfee in the fourth round.

Donovan and McAfee headlined the card which was broadcast on TG4.
Donovan and McAfee headlined the card which was broadcast on TG4.
Image: Oisin Keniry/INPHO

Joe O’Neill reports from the National Stadium

DOMESTIC BOXING IN Ireland stood up and was counted tonight at the National Stadium in Dublin and Eric Donovan looks set to become a beacon in the haze following a classy Irish title win.

Enduring setback after setback over the last few years, the sport ‘Down South’ showed it had plenty to give after a show with a difference.

‘Clash of the Titans’, promoted by Boxing Ireland Promotions and Assassin Promotions, featured a total of five all-Irish fights – including three for titles – and played out live on terrestrial television via TG4 – and it looks to be a major step forward for the game in Dublin..

Donovan’s featherweight title win over Stephen McAfee will rightly take the headlines but this was no one-man show. Gone are the days of cards chocked full of one-sided ‘building’ fights versus Eastern Europe’s finest, tonight was a time for Irish boxers to step up and put it on the line, and they duly did.

Of course, there were still the customary ‘learning fights’ for young prospects early on but, from 7:30pm until 11, those in attendance and watching at home were treated to non-stop domestic dust-ups and competitive fights – sadly a rarity in modern boxing, especially at the cut-throat lower level.

Donovan [9-0, 5 KOs], though, stood a level above, cutting through McAfee with extreme prejudice.

Eric Donovan celebrates winning Eric Donovan celebrates the fourth round stoppage. Source: Oisin Keniry/INPHO

The Athy southpaw had endured a nightmare 2018, with finger and shoulder injuries severely limiting. However, at 33, he has no time for a lengthy rebuild and jumped up to Irish title level in his return following an extended camp with Olympic silver medallist Kenny Egan.

It proved to be a good move, with Donovan dominating from the start. Fleet of foot and quick of hand, he circled around and countered brave Sallynoggin slugger McAfee [5(2)-1(1)-1] before a perfect body shot ended the contest in the fourth.

McAfee, who debuted on a Donovan-headlined card back in 2017, has been one for taking big domestic fights and it had endeared him to fans and pundits alike but ‘The Lilywhite Lightning’ proved to be several levels above.

Interviewed by Donegal middleweight contender Jason Quigley for TG4 following the win, Donovan addressed the crowd as Gaeilge and stated his intention to target the European title currently held by former Bernard Dunne and Carl Frampton foe Kiko Martinez.

Chief support saw Victor Rabei [7-0, 2 KOs] retain his BUI Celtic title following a controlled win over Jake Hanney [5-2, 4 KOs].

A Dublin derby, there had been plenty of flash-points in the build-up with the Hanney camp suggesting that Rabei would withdraw from the fight – which was initially advertised to be a vacant Irish title fight before ending up being sanctioned as a defence of the secondary domestic belt.

Hanney, who holds a far greater amateur pedigree than Rabei, looked a threat early on, landing some big shots in the second especially. However, the inner-city man’s career has been stop-start, with a promising beginning in Australia giving way to inactivity and full-time work back home.

Out of the ring for two years, Hanney lacked sharpness whereas Rabei, who had had as many pro fights in the past two years as his opponent did in the previous six, looked the more complete and composed pro, sticking to the gameplan, outworking his foe, and hurting him multiple times down the stretch.
In the end it was a 79-73, 78-74, 77-75 unanimous decision win for Ratmichael’s Rabei – the middle tally matching that of this writer.

The first title fight of the night saw Aiden Metcalfe [2-1] take on Allan Phelan [10-3-1, 7 KOs] for the vacant BUI Celtic super featherweight title which was only on the line for the former as Kildare’s Phelan came in half a pound over the 130lbs limit.

Crumlin’s Metcalfe looked much the sharper initially but was quickly dragged into a gruelling war by Phelan, with both boxers bleeding by the momentum-shifting third round. Phelan’s strength and conditioning would tell and, down twice in the sixth, the towel would come in from Metcalfe’s legendary trainer Phil Sutcliffe.

While Allan couldn’t pick up the belt, it was a great night for the Phelan family with younger sister Katelynn, Ireland’s youngest ever female pro at just 18 years of age, making a winning professional debut, outpointing Poland’s Monika Antonik over four in the bout proceeding her brother’s.

Limerick light middleweight southpaw Graham McCormack [4-0, 1 KO] kicked things off in terms of the big fights, beating Cork-based South African Jade Karam [9-10-2, 4 KOs] in a dramatic encounter. McCormack, the obviously more talented boxer was dropped in the third  by the wild-swinging Karam but was able to box his way to a 58-55 win in an entertaining clash.

A Dublin derby followed, with Crumlin’s Martin Quinn [3-1, 1 KO] taking on Congo-born Blanchardstown boxer Francy Luzoho [1-1, 1 KO] in a six-round epic. Following a prolonged ring entrance featuring a rapper, flags, the Undertaker’s theme music, masks, and a plastic severed head, Luzoho eventually reached the ring and started fast, peppering Quinn with volleys of shots.

‘Mighty Martin’, though, dug in and got stronger as the bout progressed – before a furious final round in which he was hurt early before rallying again. Both celebrated at the bell and, after a delay, it was Quinn declared the winner on a scoreline of 59-56.This writer had the quicker Luzoho triumphing and this opinion was shared by many, but not all, at ringside.

Starting off the night – well, afternoon, as it was 4:30pm – was Slovakia-born Mitchelstown super middle Vladimir Belujsky [7-2-1, 6 KOs] who scored a points win over durable Pole Michal Ciach. This was followed by first-round knockouts for Waterford super middle Craig McCarthy [6-0, 1 KO] and Inner-City welter Keane McMahon [6-0, 3 KOs] over Hungarians Jan Salamancha and Akos Racs respectively – the latter Irishman warming up for a BUI Celtic title fight with Scot Darren Sutherland in Aberdeen in May.

The other female fight on the card saw Limerick-based Kerry super feather Siobhan O’Leary [2-0, 1 KO] defeat Poland’s Bojan Libiszewska in an entertaining war before impressive pro debuts from Kerry light heavy Kevin Cronin [1-0, 1 KO] and Pete Taylor-trained Bray super bantam Sam Carroll [1-0] versus Poles Mateusz Lisiak and Kamil Jaworek respectively.

Coming off a controversial defeat to three-weight British title challenger Iain Butcher, Jobstown’s Irish super bantamweight champion Carl McDonald [6-3, 1 KO] had a first round knockout over David Botos while, also coming back from defeat, Cavan light middleweight Owen Duffy [4-1, 2 KOs] outpointed Czech Gergo Vari.

The main non-domestic undercard fight saw Waterford welterweight Dylan Moran [10-0, 5 KOs] fresh from signing a promotional deal with major U.S. player Star Boxing, outpoint (79-74) former EU champion Gyorgy Mizsei Jr over eight.

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